NEW YORK — It wasn't necessarily pretty, but this was exactly how USF has won 20 games this season: grinding out a slow, patient win with record-breaking defense.
USF jumped out to a big lead early and never let Villanova closer than five points, picking up a 56-47 win late Wednesday night to solidify their NCAA Tournament resume in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The Big East tournament record for fewest points is 40, and Villanova didn't get there until 1:11 was left in the game. Bulls freshman point guard Anthony Collins continued to show poise beyond his year of college basketball, scoring a team-high 17 to go with four assists.
USF (20-12) advances to play third-seeded Notre Dame at 9:30 tonight in the quarterfinals. Villanova (13-19) lost to the Bulls for the fourth time in less than a year.
The Bulls came in having won six of eight games to put themselves in strong position for their first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years. A home loss to West Virginia on Saturday put the Bulls closer to the NCAA bubble, putting pressure on them to hold seed and advance to today's quarterfinals after earning a bye from Tuesday's opening round.
USF guard Victor Rudd came out on fire, hitting a 3-pointer and a 3-point play in the first 90 seconds. He added a high-flying baseline dunk and had 10 quick points to give USF a 12-2 lead six minutes in. The Bulls didn't let Villanova get closer than six points, closing out the half with four points for a 27-17 lead.
USF's defense, on pace for the lowest points allowed in Big East history, didn't disappoint, holding Villanova to 20 percent shooting — take away Yarou's 3-for-5 effort and the rest of the team shot 10 percent (2-for-20) from the field, including an 0-for-8 showing from leading scorer Maalik Wayns.
USF came in with the challenge of beating a team for the fourth time in less than a year — they upset the Wildcats in last year's tournament on March 8, then swept them in two double-digit wins in the regular season. Villanova hadn't lost three times to the same team in one season since Syracuse swept them in 1987, and USF hadn't beaten one team three times in a season since Charlotte in 1990.
It's the third year in a row USF has won its opening game in the tournament, but it's the Bulls' first trip to the quarterfinals. They lost to Notre Dame by 11 in South Bend in their only regular-season meeting. With its 20 wins, USF matched the second-best total in school history, matching the 2009-10 Bulls and two wins behind the school record of 22, set in 1982-83.